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Clwyd Alyn combines digital inclusion training with calming therapy and reminiscence

As part of a well-established partnership with Digital Communities Wales, Clwyd Alyn saw an opportunity to combine digital inclusion training with other therapies such as distraction/calming therapy and reminiscence.

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As part of a well-established partnership with Digital Communities Wales, Clwyd Alyn saw an opportunity to combine digital inclusion training with other therapies such as distraction/calming therapy and reminiscence.

Demonstrating this dual purpose, the organisation has made a strong case for the digital tools to continue to be used in its homes beyond the initial training sessions.

Staff have been trained, not just on using new digital technologies, but also on the best ways to work with those in their care to tailor content to personal stories, memories and interests. This has helped to build an emotional connection, breaking down barriers to digital engagement and building a strong case for its continued use.

Intergenerational sessions were an engaging and fun way to introduce a range of new skills, services and apps, while also building community relationships.

This has had a noticeable positive impact on the wellbeing of residents during the sessions and on the relationships between staff and residents longer-term.

What was the issue that needed to be addressed?

Clwyd Alyn is a registered social landlord managing more than 6,000 homes across north Wales.

The organisation wanted to help Supported Living residents to learn about using online health and wellness tools through digital inclusion training sessions. Social housing residents are disproportionately likely to be digitally excluded and Clwyd Alan prioritises support for health and wellbeing, particularly with older residents.

The sessions aimed to increase knowledge and build confidence so that these tools would continue to be used in the home.

What was the intervention and how did it work?

Clwyd Alyn has established digital inclusion programmes, including training staff and volunteers as digital champions and providing equipment, wifi and learning opportunities for staff, volunteers and tenants. They have built a strong partnership with Digital Communities Wales around well-aligned aims and priorities.

DCW staff have run workshops using VR and reminiscence resources to help residents in Clwyd Alyn’s Care and Extra Care Homes to learn and practice using digital tools. Training covered the use of technology but also distraction/calming therapy and using VR for reminiscence.

The staff chose bespoke local content for the VR experience, used BFI and BBC films and soundtracks tailored for reminiscence.

Residents were able to revisit online the places they had grown up in, where they had lived and visited on day trips and holidays. The immersive nature of VR gives people a much closer connection back to memories, images and stories from their own  lives.

The team has also worked with local primary school volunteers to create intergenerational activities. The schools have produced resources such as presentations on internet safety for example, or digital logo quizzes which can be done as a shared activity.

Staff report this has worked particularly well – even where the residents may not be interested in the technology, they are always interested in interacting with the children. These initial conversations around the pupil’s presentations, or working together on a quiz gives the pupils a chance to talk about the various apps and services in terms of what they can be used for.

What was the impact of the intervention?

  • Well over 100 residents have been through the programme in Clwyd Alyn’s sheltered/ Extra Care schemes across North Wales. And around 40 school children have benefitted from intergenerational sessions.
  • Residents found the opportunity to reminisce engaging and enjoyable which meant they opened up with their own stories.
  • Staff had lots of requests for information on where residents had lived or went on holidays so that they could show them tailored, personal content.
  • Prompted by local film footage, community reminiscence sessions prompted residents to share stories with each other and staff about how things used to be in their area, helping to build relationships and increase interaction.
  • Showing BFI films went down very well and mixing that with VR of familiar locations such as Llandudno Pier, for example, gave residents with mobility issues a chance to ‘revisit’ locations that they can’t go to any more.
  • The sessions were so successful that staff and residents are now looking at buying their own VR headsets

“In one of the sessions we had a woman with dementia who doesn’t communicate very much. But after watching the film she became much more engaged and even had a go on the interactive bike we had from Betsi Cadwallader.”

Louise Blackwell, Community Development Officer, Clwyd Alyn

What has been the outcome in terms of new skills, better health and enhanced well-being?

  • Staff have reported marked improvements in interactions with many residents – digital inclusion sessions have been a valued opportunity for staff and residents to spend time together and have fun.
  • VR headsets have been particularly successful for reminiscence and for enabling residents to re-experience places which may no longer be accessible.
  • Intergenerational sessions have benefited pupils and residents through sharing skills, building confidence and strengthening community links.
  • Wardens have provided positive feedback of longer-term benefits on resident well-being and their relationships and engagement with staff.

“Introducing elderly residents to VR has been a great way to show them how they can ‘re-experience’ things they may no longer be able to do. We had a lady in a wheelchair and her daughter suggested we look for the little village where she had grown up. Being able to show her that – she immediately recognised it and started to cry. It can be really emotional.”

Louise Blackwell, Community Development Officer, Clwyd Alyn

Now that interest has been generated, Clwyd Alyn is investing in its own VR headsets. DCW will train wardens, extra care officers and activities coordinators on how to use them and access relevant archive content.

As well as training staff to use technology for health and well-being, DCW has also trained them on how to support people looking for work. This has now also been expanded to include ‘Project Search’, a scheme supporting people with learning disabilities into employment. 

What can we learn that could be repeatable, transferable or scalable?

Using digital technology can be a powerful aid to reminiscence and vice versa

  • Immersion through film, sound and virtual reality make an engaging connection to past memories and experiences, bringing them to life.
  • Reminiscence is a powerful motivation for using digital technologies to experience personally relevant content.

Train staff on therapeutic use of VR, as well as technical aspects

  • Training on where and how to find relevant content is as important as learning any new technical skills which might be needed.
  • Showing staff the therapeutic benefits of these digital technologies and services means they are more likely to be integrated into day to day patient care.

Resources created by the school and visiting pupils worked particularly well

  • They were more engaging as the residents wanted to interact with the pupils.
  • Using quizzes in particular, meant that pupils naturally discussed a range of different apps and services that they use.

Tailoring content so that it is relevant to the individual

  • Making a personal connection to content makes the strongest possible case for using the technology.
  • Taking the time to tailor content also helps to build relationships.
  • One to one support creates a safe space for people to experiment.

VR has a novelty factor and is more immersive

  • The technology is still new and many people will not have experienced it yet. As a multi-sensory experience, it has greater impact, particularly when coupled with content that brings back personal memories.

Offer follow-up support for new VR kit which may be bought after initial sessions

  • Ensure that any new kit will continue to be used by supporting staff with set-up
  • Create a bank of localised/personalised content which staff can use to support patients, particularly with reminiscence.